Businesses near downtown fire site want more help from Raleigh
Posted 7:45 p.m. Friday
Raleigh, N.C. — Six months after a massive fire in downtown Raleigh, some nearby streets remain closed to traffic, so businesses in the area are struggling.
The Metropolitan Apartments went up in flames on March 16. In addition to destroying the unfinished apartment building on West Jones Street, the five-alarm fire – the largest in Raleigh in 90 years – damaged nine nearby buildings.
Sections of Jones, Lane and Harrington streets have been closed since the fire for demolition, cleanup and rebuilding and might not fully reopen until early 2019.
"It's an uphill climb," said Jon Seelbinder, the owner of Little City Brewing + Provisions, which is one block north of the site on closed-off Harrington Street.
Seelbinder said the climb might not be so steep, however, if the city would help Little City Brewing and other nearby businesses, where he said revenue has fallen by 45 to 70 percent since the fire.
"We're entrepreneurs. We make something out of nothing. We're just going to keep doing that. That's what we do. But it would be nice to say, 'Hey, this is the biggest fire in 100 years. What can we do to help? What can we do to make it better?'" he said.
Raleigh leaders have put a flashing sign on southbound Capital Boulevard into downtown: "West St. Business Open. Use Detour Route." They also have placed orange detour signs on sidewalks in the area to guide pedestrians to areas they might think are inaccessible.
Bob Hagh, a spokesman for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, said officials hope to make other improvements in the near future.
"We want to make sure that, when they do walk down here, it is safe for them," Hagh said. "The city wants to put some extra lighting on the sidewalk, make sure it's a nice, flat service – no gravel, no mud – so they can easily walk."
Because rebuilding in the area isn't expected to be finished before early 2019 – demolition of the Metropolitan site is only halfway done – Seelbinder is planning a charity block party on Oct. 7 with music and food to bring people to the area and generate revenue for businesses.
"That'll be an exciting way for us to build some awareness around the neighborhood, the community, and let people know that we're still an anchor here in the neighborhood," he said.
Ted Reynolds, owner of the Quorum Center tower of offices and condominiums, which was heavily damaged in the fire, said crews are "doing the best that they can" to get the area up and running again.
Contractors have gutted the building and are rebuilding the entire interior, as well as replacing the brick and windows on the north side of the building. Repairs won't be finished until next summer.
"It’s been very disruptive," said Reynolds, who was forced to flee his condo with his wife during the fire. "Thank goodness no one was hurt We just have to suck it up and make do till we can get back into our home."